Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in 1910

A few months ago I came across some wonderful images of pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick. These images were taken some time in the first decade of the 20th century. The photographs were assembled by Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap. (1873-1953) a Capuchin friar known as the ‘Guardian of the Reek’, in honour of his long association with the pilgrimage. The images  have recently been digitised from a collection of glass plate negatives held in the  Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives, and the archives  have kindly given me permission to reproduce the images for this blog post.  I recommend a visit to the Irish Capuchin Archives Facebook page  were you will find wonderful images and documents associated with early 20th century Irish history.

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The photos reminded me of a contemporary account I had read some years ago of a pilgrimage to the summit of Croagh Patrick  undertaken in 1910, on the main pilgrimage day to the mountain, the last Sunday of July often called Reek Sunday. The story of the pilgrimage was  recounted in the article entitled ‘A Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick’ and was written by a cleric who gives his name as E.O’L and was published in the Irish Monthly magazine.  The article recounts the priests ascent of the mountain, the weather conditions and encounters with pilgrims.  I have climbed Croagh Patrick a number of times most recently on  Reek Sunday in 2014 and it struck me that the 1910 account has a number of parallels to  the modern pilgrimage in particular the  physicality of journey to the summit, the dangers faced by pilgrims and weather conditions.

I found it very interesting that the article advises against wearing poor footwear when climbing this holy mountain and over a hundred years later this advise is still sound. I have often seen pilgrims and tourist attempt to climb Croagh Patrick in flipflops  or other inappropriate footwear or clothing. Mayo Mountain rescue advises those planning to climb Croagh Patrick and other mountains in the area to wear appropriate clothing and footwear  and to be aware that temperatures at the top of the mountain can be up to 10 degrees colder than at sea level.

In 1910 the author of the article advise  pilgrims to avoid poor footwear stating

Low, thin-soled shoes are not the thing where one frequently sinks above the ankles in  wet, boggy turf loam, and ladies’ fashionable high-heeled  boots are, to say the very least of them, quiet at a discount where loose, sharp  rocks and stones, and heaps of them, covering  long and steep stretches of the ” Pilgrim’s Path,” have to  be got over somehow (E. O’L 1910, 539)

 

The article advises gentlemen in 1910 to wear

 …good, thick-soled boots (not shoes), with a few spikes or nails to prevent slipping, leggings of some sort, a light, rainproof cape, and a good, long, reliable walking-stick or pilgrim’s staff (E. O’L 1910, 539).

For  ladies

With regard to a suitable dress or outfit for ladies, we shall attempt to give only very little and very negative advice, namely, in the first place, not to wear light-soled, high-heeled shoes or boots; and, in the second place, not to wear over-long skirts, which cling about the feet, and, when the mountain is wet under foot or when there is rain and mist (which seems to be oftener the case than not), soon become very bedraggled and uncomfortable (E. O’L 1910, 539).

The author of the article undertook his pilgrimage on the last Sunday of July and tells us that

morning broke dull and grey, and heavy rain clouds and mist and fog enveloped and concealed the upper heights of the holy mountain almost all day long (E.O’L 1910, 587).

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View of Croagh Patrick from base of the mountain covered in cloud and mist.

Traveling with companions, he left Westport by car  and  traveled on  to Murrisk.  En-route the group passed

 group after group of young and old, boys and girls, men and women, on foot, all walking with zealous haste towards the holy mountain ; great numbers of cyclists also were to be seen, and a long line of brakes and cars of every description. Still everything was quiet and orderly, and the demeanour of the people was simply admirable (E.O’L 1910, 390).

Upon arrival at Murrisk the group immediately began their ascent of the mountain along the pilgrim path known as the Casán Phádraig/St Patrick’s path.

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Pilgrims beginning their ascent of Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Image courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Large numbers of pilgrims were already climbing the mountain and the scene described below is very similar to that of the modern pilgrimage on Reek Sunday.

Lifting up our eyes we saw before and above us an irregular and unbroken line of pilgrims winding, in long curves, up the mountain slopes, and higher up still, on an elevated ridge of the mountain leading to the cone proper, we could clearly see the unbroken line of pilgrims slowly advancing and silhouetted sharply against the sky-line; and higher and higher up still they could be seen, until they passed on into the heavy clouds, which hid them and all the upper reaches of the holy mountain from our sight (E. O’L 1910, 591).

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Pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Note the ladies in their long skirts in the foreground. The image is courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

The modern pilgrimage as we know it derives from efforts made by the  Archbishop of Tuam Dr. Healy in 1903 to revive the pilgrimage which was at the time in sharp decline. Dr Healy was also responsible for building the oratory on the summit of the mountain.  The numbers of pilgrims have steadily increased in the last hundred years  but in 1910 the pilgrimage was popular enough to attract pilgrims in their thousands.

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Pilgrims taking a brake while climbing Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Image is courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Until the 1970’s it the was the norm for a large portion of  pilgrims on Reek Sunday to climb Croagh Patrick by torch-light the night before or in the hours before dawn.

An hour into the climb E. O’L and his companions

 began to meet many of those who had already been to the summit and were now returning. Some of the older people had gone up the evening before, and had spent the night on the mountain side, or praying around the Oratory on the summit, and indeed they must have suffered greatly throughout that wet and dreary night, and no wonder they should look weary and faint and worn after having been ” buffeted at will by rain and storm ” all night long during their vigil on such a wild and shelterless mountain.

As they made their way up the mountain pilgrims descending  greeted them with

Bravo ! you’re getting on grand, you have only a few hundred yards more to climb,” or, ” Take your time, alanna, and you’ll soon be at the top,” etc.

Modern pilgrims to Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday will often give words of encouragement to those ascending the mountain.

Croagh Patrick can be a dangerous mountain much of the route, in particular the latter stages along the conical top  of the mountain, is covered by loose shale which moves under foot and can be very slippery in wet weather.   The terrain is difficult especially in the final stages. Each year people fall, sprain and brake limbs while ascending and descending the mountain. So it’s not surprising that in 1910 the group also  met a man ‘with a handkerchief tied around his head and blood oozing from underneath it‘, who had slipped and fell among the rocks  while descending the mountain. The video below shows the pilgrimage on Reek Sunday on a day with similar weather conditions  to those described in 1910 and it highlights how dangerous the climb can be and the amazing work that Mayo Mountain Rescue and the Order of Malta do to help pilgrims on this day.

The author and his companion reached the summit

clothes drenched with rain, our feet wet, our boots and lower garments covered with clammy turf-mould.

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Pilgrims descending Croagh Patrick is wet and overcast conditions, similar to those described in the article.

As is the case with Reek Sunday today mass in St Patrick’s Oratory and confession was a big part of the pilgrimage rituals  in 1910.

The priests who said their Masses early heard a good many of the pilgrims’ confessions afterwards, and at the time we entered the little Oratory of Templepatrick, rows of pious pilgrims were receiving Holy Communion, and there were pilgrims for Communion at Masses until mid-day (E. O’L 1910, 593).

The evening before a rota was organised to ensure that masses were completed in an orderly fashion

 the priests who wished to say Mass on the summit entered their names in a register kept at the presbytery, Westport, and both the hour and the altar at which each priest was to say Mass in the Oratory were appointed (E. O’L 1910, 585).

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Pilgrims on the summit of Croagh Patrick circa 1910. Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

After their masses the group enjoyed

some sandwiches and a warm cup of tea nicely prepared… by two or three young ladies from the Technical School, Westport (E.O’L 1910, 593).

On my pilgrimage in 2014 I noticed  many pilgrims bought a packed lunch and others bought refreshments and tea from the stalls on the periphery of the summit.

 

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Courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

Having enjoyed the refreshments and

 listened to the excellent sermon of the Very Rev. Father M’Grath for the occasion, and having received the special Papal Benediction at its close, and after hearing the Acts devoutly read in Irish before the twelve o’clock Mass, we began our laborious descent, in fog and rain, over loose rough stones and through boggy turf-mould and slush, and our heads were moved with compassion especially for the poor weary pilgrims struggling up against us, and we consoled and cheered them as best we could…. (E. O’L 1910 594).

As they descended the cone

 the clouds and mist all cleared away quite suddenly, or rather we had left them behind or above us. The sun shone out brilliantly, and land and sea and sky all seemed to rejoice with and for us on our happy and safe return from the Holy Summit. And looking down upon the pleasant land of promise that lay basking in the sunlight far below us, the hardships of the mountain and the wilderness were very soon forgotten (EO’L 1910 594).

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View of the summit of Croagh Patrick covered in cloud and fog. Image taken from the Tóchar Phádraig pilgrim path in 2008.

I hope this post by combining early 20th century and modern images with an early account of pilgrimage gives you a sense of what it was like to be part of the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in 1910. It is also interesting to compare the dress of the pilgrims, the ladies in long skirts and fancy hats, the men dressed in suits some even wear top hats, it’s a far cry from waterproof jackets  and hiking boots worn by the majority of modern pilgrims. We also see that then as now some pilgrims performed their pilgrimage barefoot. Yet we are also reminded  while clothing has changed the modern pilgrim walks along the same path and endures the same physical hardships and weather conditions as those who have gone before.

References

Images from the photographic collection of Fr. Angelus Healy OFM Cap. (1873-1953), now part of the Capuchin Archives collection. Reproduced in this blog courtesy of the Irish Capuchin Provincial Archives.

E. O’L. 1910. ‘A Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick: July 31, 1910’,  The Irish Monthly, Vol. 38, No. 448 (Oct., 1910), pp. 585-596.

http://www.mayomrt.com/

https://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/2014/08/18/reek-sunday-my-pillgrimage-to-croagh-patrick/

http://www.learnaboutarchives.ie/index.php/archive-services/archive-services-pdf/item/irish-capuchin-provincial-archives-2

 

 

 

 

The story of the 2014 Patten Day at Durrow through StorymapJS

In June I attended the pattern day at Durrow Co Offaly and I wrote a post about it.  I have been trying out some new social media platforms and here  is  the story of the pattern day at Durrow adapted and  re told through photos and maps using   StoryMap

Durrow Pattern day.

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2013 Pattern day at Old Leighlin Co Carlow

Last year I attended the pattern/patron day celebration in honour of St Laserian  at Old Leighlin, Co Carlow.  I had planned to write this post the following day but life got in the way as it so often does, and before I new it days, weeks, months and over a year had gone by.  So better late than never.

Old Leighlin is a small sleepy village  a short distance from Carlow town.  St Gobban founded a monastery here in the  7th century.  He was succeeded by St Laserian  also known as Molaisse , who became the patron saint of the site and surrounding area.  In 630 AD, during Laserian’s  rule, a synod was held here to consider the correct time for the celebration of Easter (see my post on the Easter Controversy). Laserian died in AD 639 and tradition holds he was buried  here  and it is likely his grave was visited by pilgrims from an early date, although the site of his grave has long been forgotten.

Following Laserian’s death the  settlement  prospered and grew in strength and influence, becoming one of the foremost churches in Leinster.   By the 12th century it became the see of the diocese to which it gives its name. All that remains of the  medieval settlement are  the medieval Cathedral church, a holy well, bullaun stone,  two early medieval cross slabs and early medieval stone cross.  Following the reformation the Old Leighlin Cathedral came into the possession of the Church of Ireland and  it continues to function as a place of worship.  I will discuss the medieval and post-medieval evidence for pilgrimage  at a later date.

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St Laserian’s Cathedral church at Old Leighlin, much of the fabric dates to the late 13th century.

Modern Pilgrimage

Today as in  medieval times St. Laserian is the focus of a yearly pilgrimage at Old Leighlin  on the 18th of April.  The modern pilgrim celebrations at Old Leighlin  takes place each day  on the saint’s feast day, when an ecumenical  service  is held at  the Church of Ireland Church (medieval cathedral of Old Leighlin) followed by a procession to the nearby holy well dedicated to St Laserian. This year in 2014 the feast day fell on Good Friday and it was held Easter Sunday.

The service is normally presided over by two bishops,  the Anglican Bishop of the United Diocese of Cashel , Ferns, Leighlin, Lismore, Ossory and Waterford and the Catholic  Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, highlighting the importance of St Laserian within both diocese.

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Doorway in the south wall of the cathedral nave.

In 2013 the ecumenical service was held  in the evening  at around 7.30pm.  The Cathedral which is dedicated to St Laserian  is a very beautiful structure.

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The cathedral with a magnificent stained glass window behind the alter.

The Cathedral has many interesting features such as a  magnificent stain glass  window designed  by Catherine O’Brien, in the east gable.  The window depicts Irish and Universal saints  Moling, Bridget, Fiach, Canice, Patrick, John, Paul and  Laserian.

The 2013  service was presided over  by Right Reverend Michael Burrows, the Anglican Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin, as the Catholic diocese of Kildare and Leighlin was without a Bishop at the time.  As well as commemorating St  Laserian  with prayers and hymns, 2013 marked a special occasion for Old Leighlin, with the unveiling of an icon of St Laserian that had been specially commissioned for the Cathedral.

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The unveiling of the icon of St Laserian in 2013

The Old Leighlin pilgrimage is one of only a handful  of modern Irish pilgrimages that incorporates a procession.  Following  service all of  those present lined up and walked behind  by the bishop(s) and clergy of both churches in a  processional walk, from the Cathedral along the main road which skirts alongside the north wall of the Cathedral graveyard  to St Laserian’s  holy well.

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Pilgrims leaving the church following the ecumenical service.

The procession began outside the church leaving via the main church gates and on to  St Laserian’s  holy well a  few hundred metres to the west of the church.

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2013 processional walk to St Laserian’s holy well.

As the procession approached the holy well a  band who had been waiting patiently in the car park, beside the holy well, began to play music as the pilgrims approached.

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Procession as it approached the holy well.

The well is located within a landscaped green  field that slopes  sharply to the south.   The  clergy gathered at the well, located at the base of the slope.  Most pilgrims  gathered at the top of the slope  with a second group  standing around the rag tree near the holy well.

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Pilgrims begin to gather for the blessing of the waters.

Once everyone was assembled a short prayer service then took place and the waters of the wells  were blessed.

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Blessing of the waters of St Laserian’s holy well.

 

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Pilgrims gathering for the blessing of the well.

Following the blessing of the water, and despite the rain  most of the pilgrims  assembled at the well to drink  or take home its water.  Many pilgrims had brought plastic bottles with them to carry the water home.

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Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.

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Pilgrims taking water from St Laserian’s holy well.

The  evening ended  on a very social note  with most people  heading to the nearby local community hall for a very welcome cup of  tea, cake and a chat.

Each summer from mid June until the end of August  the Old Leighlin Cathedral is  open to the public from  Monday-Friday from 10.a.m. until 4 p.m  so I hope this post might encourage some of you to visit, as it is an amazing place.    I plan to write another post about  history of the Cathedral the  more ancient  pilgrimage traditions at the site  later in the year so watch the space.

 

Links to information on Old Leighlin

http://www.carlowcountymuseum.com/carlow-county/pages/old-leighlin-cathedral.aspx

http://carlowtourism.com/st-laserians-cathedral-3/

http://cashel.anglican.org/information/diocese/cathedrals/leighlin.html

 

 

The Pattern day at Durrow Co Offaly

Last Monday the 9th of June I  attended the pattern day celebrations in the parish of Durrow Co Offaly.

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Banner of St Colmcille/Columba.

Durrow is a small village about 5-7 km outside of Tullamore town.   St Colmcille/Columba is the patron saint of the parish  and the local community celebrate his feast day on the 9th of June each year.  Tradition holds the saint founded a monastery here in the 6th century close to the holy well.  Durrow was an ecclesiastical settlement of great importance  and part of the  early medieval Columban federation of churches.  I will discuss the  history, the archaeological  remains at Durrow and the medieval evidence for pilgrimage in more detail in a later date.  This post will focus  only on this years pilgrimage.

Modern pilgrimage

Each year  the people of Durrow continuing on a centuries old tradition,  commemorate the feast day of  St. Colmcille.  It is also the traditional day that   the children from the parish make  their first communion.

This year the communion mass  was held at 10 am and a second mass in honor of Colmcille was held at 12am.  Following mass the community walk in procession to St. Colmcille’s holy well and  after  all the religious celebrations  a sports day  was held in the afternoon .

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Processional route from Durrow Roman Catholic Church to St Colmcille’s holy well ( map taken google maps)

When I arrived in Durrow  it was about 12.2o and mass was underway.   The church  was decorated in bunting and flags.

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Roman Catholic Church at Durrow.

Following mass  everyone assembled  at the church gates and  fell into line  behind a banner with an image of the saint.  The parish priest and other  clergy from the diocese and two musicians walked in front with the rest of the pilgrims following.

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Pilgrims beginning to assemble outside the church gates for the procession.

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Musicians John Buttivant and Dick  relaxing before the procession. There are normally joined by a piper who was unfortunately not able to attend this year due to illness.

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The procession as it leaves the church and turns soutj down the N52.

The procession heads from the church gates south along the N52 road .  The event  literally stops traffic as the community walk along this busy road.   St Colmcille’s day is very important to the local community and one lady told me that  many people will take the day off work  to attend.

Everyone was in good spirits  as they walked along  oblivious to the lorries and cars behind them, thankfully the an Garda Síochána were  also present to regulate the traffic.

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The procession as it heads down the N52.

After walking for approximately  0.5 km the procession leaves the N52 road and heads  into Durrow Abbey Demesne.

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The procession as it enters the N52.

The next stage of the procession, which is about 0.6km in lenght,  could not be more different from the first section of the walk.  The pilgrims  proceeded down a leafy driveway that leads to the St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland and Durrow Abbey House.

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Pilgrims walking along the road within Durrow Demesne.

The procession continued past  St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland

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St Colmcille’s Church of Ireland at Durrow.

and  along a small  trackway which leads  to a D shaped , tree covered marshy area known as the island.

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Pilgrims walking down the trackway leading to St Colmcille’s holy well.

St Colmcille’s  holy well is located at the center of this area.

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St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Everyone  congregated around the well and tried to avoid the more marshy areas.  Some boards had been placed towards the entrance to make access easier.  Once everyone had arrived a  number of prayers were recited blessing the well and those present.

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Prayer being said at St Colmcille’s holy well.

Following prayers many people  went to the holy well to take home water in plastic bottles and milk cartons.   A young man  and woman  stood by the well and  filled bottles with water for the pilgrims .

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Pilgrims taking water from St Colmcille’s holy well at Durrow.

Durrow was certainly one of the most stylish pilgrimages I have attended, probably because it coincides with communion day and everyone looked great in their suits and dresses.   This  event has such a great community feel and its really a  great social occasion too.

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Pilgrims chatting at St Colmcille’s holy well.

As I headed back up the trackway towards the church, which houses the 9th century high cross (will discuss in another post),  I could hear singing  and when I went to investigate further   I found a fantastic choir  who were singing within the church.

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The choir singing within the church at Durrow.

I really enjoyed my time at Durrow and it was really lovely to attend such  a vibrant pilgrimage.

References

http://www.tullamoreparish.ie/durrow-mainmenu-177%5B/embed%5D

 

 

Pilgrimage to St John’s well at Mushera Mountain Co Cork.

On Monday evening last on mid summers day  I headed to the annual  pilgrimage at St John’s holy well on the slopes of Mushera Mountain.  So after work armed with directions from my friend Cork based archaeologist Flor Hurley, I headed off to find the well and got very lost …. Nothing to do with Flor’s directions and a bit to do with my bad sense of direction  but I  did find my way eventually. My short unplanned diversions helped me to appreciate  that this is truly a beautiful part of the country. I noticed a lot of signposts for wedge tombs, stone circles and standing stones in my travels  so I will have to take a trip back to do some exploring.

The well

The holy well sits at the edge of a forestry plantation close to the road through the mountains.

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St John’s well and surrounding landscape

The well is a natural spring that is cover by a large grotto.   Within  is a statue niche with a large statue of St John. There were lovely bunches of wild flowers and  some cups left beside the statue. The well is accessed through a rectangular opening below the statue and I noticed that some coins had been thrown in. There was also a box for petitions or notes what would be written by pilgrims to ask the Saint to intercede on their behalf.

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Statue of St John and recess for access to Holy Well

A circular area has been tarred in front of the grotto/well and  twelve stations of the cross are found along the edge of this area. This circular area is linked to a lower car park and the main road via a small tarred roadway.

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Station of the cross along the edge of the car park in front of the well

The modern grotto was erected in the 1950’s and the car park and stations of the cross are also a recent creation. There are a number of benches which have been donated by families in memory of loved ones which make for a peaceful place to sit.

The site looked very different  in the past as this photo from the 1920s shows  it consisted of a small corbelled structure set in heath land.

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St John’s well in 1920

Traditional Stations at the Well

Those partaking in the traditional pilgrim rituals at the well  are said to be “paying of the rounds” this is an expression I haven’t heard before as  at other well sites the pilgrim is described as “doing the rounds”.  The rounds consist of  Seven Our Fathers and Seven Hail Mary’s and Seven Gloria said while kneeling in front of the well. Then one decade of the rosary is said three times as the pilgrim circles the well. The prayers conclude with the Rosary being said in front of the well.  I noticed two flat portable stones with crosses incised by pilgrims on the step in front of the grotto. The incising of the crosses appear to be part of the modern pilgrim traditions here.

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Stone incised with crosses made by pilgrims

This well is one of   three holy wells located on Mushera mountain. All three  are called St Johns’s Well and all dedicated to the same saint. One is in the adjoining  parish of  Aghina  on top of the mountain and the   second is located on the old Butter road   in Banteer parish.  The well discussed here is  found is  in the parish of Millstreet.  Devotion to the other wells has waned over the years and now  the well in the parish of Millstreet is the main focus for devotion in the area. Time didn’t allow for me to visit the other wells but I do plan to head back before the end of the summer.

Like many other Irish wells the waters here are believed to have a cure . The wells waters are reputed to cure warts and one lady I spoke with at the pilgrimage mass told me her son had been cured of warts after coming to the well.

Folklore of the Saint

Tradition holds that  the saint came to the  Muskerry hills with  his three sisters.   His  three sisters  were saint’s  Lasair,  Ingean Bhuide and Latiaran who I discussed  earlier in the year on Facebook page. The feast days of the sisters   were honoured at quarterly periods and may be associated with pre Christian religion. The connection with the well here with mid summer may also suggest that St John like his sisters evolved from pre Christian deity at the well when an earlier cult at the well was Christianised.

Past Pilgrimage & the Pattern Day Tradition

Like many  holy wells this was the focus  of a pattern day festival

The Millstreet.ie blog  gives the following  discussion of the pattern day

June 24th is the feast day of St John and down through the ages it has been a big occasion on the mountainside.  Up to about 1940, St John’s Day had a pattern as will.  The pattern consisted of tents set up abut a mile and a half from the well on the Macroom side, in the townland of Moulnahourna.  There were sweet and cake stalls, lemonade, cigarettes and porter tents, and of course the indefatigable three-card-trick men.  Occasions for celebration at that time were few and far between, Christmas, St John’s Day and March fair which lasted three days in Millstreet.  Due to this and the presence of the porter, these occasions rarely ended without a fight, these may have been faction fights.Two sisters from Millstreet, Han and Judy Murphy sat on either side of the Well “selling the water”.  One of them would fill a saucepan with water from the Well and received payment for it.  Pilgrims wisited the Well in the morning.  It was normal practice from Ballinagree and Rylane areas to visit the Well on top of the mountain in their own parish.  Most other pilgrims visited the Well  on the Millstreet side as is the case today.  After doing the “round” they continued on to the pattern to enjoy the remainder of the day.  An old character from Ballinagree, Bill O’Dea always turned up to entertain the crowd with his songs.  Another man from Bawnmore, nicknamed   St Joseph because of his long white beard also sang to the crowds.  His real name was Lucey.  Over the years the crowds got smaller at the pattern until eventually it was no longer held.  The dancehalls took over at that time, but local people still come to pay their “rounds” as usual.

Modern Pilgrimage at St John’s Well

This years  pilgrimage consist of mass which began at 8pm at the well on the 24th of June.  Many people visited the well before and after mass and took water home in bottles.  Despite it being June it was really cold probably due to the altitude of the site.

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Pilgrims assemble for mass at St John’s Well

Many of the older people parked in the area in front of the well and some stayed in their cars throughout. The rest of the people gathered around the edge of the  circular carpark.

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The Priest saying mass

Three priests  officiated at the mass Canon Jackie Corkery, Fr Frances Manning and Fr James McSweeney. The Millstreet Pipe band and the choir provided music throughout.

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The Millstreet Pipe Band at St John’s well

This is a real community  event and people from all the surrounding areas assemble here each year. I look forward to returning to find the other Holy Wells and seeing what I can find out about the history of the site.

References

http://www.millstreet.ie/blog/history/st-johns-well

Pilgrimage to St John’s well Carrigaline, Co. Cork

The 24th of June is the feast of St John the Baptist. This day also coincides with the pagan celebration of mid summer and many pagan traditions continue even down to modern times such as the tradition of lighting bonfires.  There are many holy wells around Ireland dedicated to St John the Baptist and pilgrimage is still undertaken on the saints feast day at a large number of them.

Location Map of St John's well at the edge of Carrigaline town (taken from Google Earth).

Location Map of St John’s well at the edge of Carrigaline town (taken from Google Earth).

On  Sunday  last, St John’s Eve I attended the annual pilgrimage to St John’s well in the town of  Carrigaline, Co Cork. St John’s well or Tobar Eoin Óg  is  located in small wood in the townland of Ballinrea on the outskirts of the town of Carrigaline.  Also attending the  pilgrimage was  Richard Scriven  (Geography UCC)  who is currently doing very interesting PhD research  on modern pilgrimage in Ireland. For more details of Richard’s research check out his blog liminal entwinings.

St John’s Well

The 1st ed Ordnance Survey map of 1840  records the  well as  St Rinoge’s well elsewhere it is called Renogue’s well . Rinoge/Renogue  is likely a corruption of Eoin Óg  the Irish name for the well.

The site consists of  a spring well covered by a corbelled structure, beside the well is a large tree surrounded by a low circular wall with a stone plaque which  provides a short history of the site.

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St John’s well

A number of benches are located  at the site and  steps made of railway sleepers make the site more accessible. A small stone altar is located opposite the well.

Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland  dating to 1837 gives the following account of the well

At Ballinrea there is a mineral spring, which is considered to be of the same kind as that of Tunbridge Wells, and has been found efficacious in cases of debility; and near it is a holy well, dedicated to St Renogue, which is resorted to by the country people on the 24th of June.

The Carrigaline Parish websites states that

According to tradition the well was discovered by a blind man whose sight was restored. In gratitude he built the beehive shaped stone surround, which can be still seen today.

It is recorded that in the early 19th century huge crowds  of people attended a  patron/pattern day  on St  John’s Eve (23th June) at the well.

According to the plaque at the well, the water  has healing powers and it is customary for pilgrims to say a decade of the rosary at each of the inscribed crosses  that are found in the walls of the well house. The practice of incising crosses is seen at many other pilgrim site such as St Declan’s well at Ardmore, Co Waterford and the practice seems to be a post medieval and  modern tradition.

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Well house showing one of the incised pilgrim cross over the door of the well.

Modern Pilgrimage on St John’s Eve

It is an annual tradition for the people of Carrigaline and the surrounding area to visit St Johns well on the eve of the saints feast.  It’s a tradition which likely goes back generations.  Pilgrimage in 2013 began with pilgrims  gathered on the Ballintrea road close to the Dun Eoin housing estate  at 7.15 pm.  People stood around and  chatted and waited for others to arrive. When a crowd had gathered at 7.30 the Carrigaline  pipe band  began a processional walk to the well. The band was immediately  followed by the  parish priest who was then followed by the rest of the people ( pilgrims). The Procession headed along a lane way with a signpost for the well, past some house,  then on to a grassy lane which leads down into a grove of trees. The band played throughout the procession and were really excellent.

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The Carrigaline Pipe Band heading the procession to St John’s well.

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Pilgrims in procession to the well

The walk  was very pleasant and took about 5-10 minutes to complete.  When we all arrived at the well the band took a well deserved brake  and lines up beside the alter. The rest of the people assembled around the clearing facing the stone alter opposite the holy well . There were  two priest from the parish of Carrigaline present to lead the prayers.

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The prayers began with the  sorrowful mysteries (five decades of the rosary an explanation of rosary is in the references below).  The parish priest lead the prayers  and  moved around the well clockwise, in the same manner as any pilgrim visiting the well to perform the stations would do.

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The a cross was incised with a small stone at each of the crosses around the well.

When each decade of the rosary is begun the pilgrim takes a stone and  scratches a cross into the incised  stone.

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Pilgrim incising cross on one of the stones

These stones five in total are located around the well and have deeply incised crosses. The crosses have been created by generations of pilgrims who visited the well.

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Cross incised by pilgrims at back of the well

Following the rounds of the well  there was a ceremony called Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament  for those of you who don’t know  what that is it is a devotional ceremony, the sacrament (host) is displayed in a monstrance  in this case  on the small stone altar opposite the well.  The  a priest blesses the congregation with the Eucharist at the end of a period of  prayer.

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A number of  hymns were sung by the choir and played by the pipe band such as ‘Faith of our Fathers’. When the ceremony finished  many of those present lined up and took water from the well. Some of them incised the cross over the well door. Unlike other sites people didn’t seem to bring water bottles with them.

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I returned to the well the following morning,  to see what it was like without the hustle and bustle of people.   It really is one of the most beautiful wells I have visited and so peaceful with lots of singing of the birds.

References

http://www.carrigalineparish.ie/index.php/parishhistory/

http://www.carrigalineparish.ie/index.php/parishhistory/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benediction_of_the_Blessed_Sacrament

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary

The ‘Deer Stone’ a 19th century pilgrim station at Glendalough

Today is the feast of St Kevin of Glendalough. In recent months I have been doing some work on the 18th and 19th century Patron ( pronounced Pattern) Day celebration at Glendalough. Given the day that is in it, I will briefly talk about one of the post medieval stations visited by pilgrims to Glendalough called the ‘Deer Stone’.

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The Deer Stone at Glendalough

Location
The ‘Deer Stone’ is located beside the main ecclesiastical settlement at Glendalough. It sits on the south side of the Glenealo River, directly opposite ruins of St Ciarán’s church,
beside the green road leading to the upper lake.

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Ordnance Survey 25 ” map showing location of the Deer stone

What is the The Deer Stone ?
The Deer stone is a bullaun stone. It is one of a large cluster found around the main monastic settlement and the lower reaches of St Kevin’s road. I have explained what bullaun stones are in earlier post but just to recap. Bullaun stones are artificial basins or hollow/depressions in rocks, boulders and stones. They are thought to date to the early medieval period. The majority are found at early medieval ecclesiastical sites but some are found in isolation.

There is a lot of debate as to their original use and function. Some argue that they are medieval pilgrimage stations/monument pestles of ritual or devotional use for  turning stones within the hollows. Others think they has a more practical use such as for grinding metal ores or herbs.It is interesting that an archaeological excavation carried out in 1979 prior to the construction of a car park for the visitor centre revealed large amounts of slag. Slag is a waste product of metal processing and its presence implies an iron working industry at Glendalough.

Whatever their original use many of these stones over time developed associations with the saints and were part of the post medieval pilgrim rituals.

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The basin of the Deer Stone at Glendalough

The Deer Stone is a large granite boulder ( .77m by .86m by .30m) with a single conical depression or basin. It is not mentioned in medieval sources but it was a point of devotional object for post medieval pilgrims.

Where did the stone get its name?

The stone derives its name from a legend associated with St Kevin. The legend hold that the wife of one of the saint’s workmen died giving birth to twins. The workman came to the saint to ask for help. St Kevin  set about solving the problem and having prayed to God for help  a doe came to a certain spot and everyday shed milk into a hollow in a stone while the workman sat on a nearby boulder. Legend has it that the man’s finger prints caused the hollow in the boulder  which was hence forth known as the ‘Deer Stone’.

The origin legend of the stone appears to be an adaptation of a story mentioned in the Saint’s Life. St Kevin fostered  a  boy child called Foelán. Fostering began when the boy was still a baby. To feed the baby a  doe came down from the mountain each day and waited until she had been milked by one of the monks. The child thrived  and ultimately inherited his father’s estate.

Evidence for Pilgrimage

Glendalough was a place of pilgrimage from the time of St Kevin’s death and pilgrimage is recorded sporadically throughout the early and  late medieval period, it is generally expected that Glendalough was a centre of regional if not national pilgrimage during this period. Following the reformation  pilgrimage continued within the valley and the main burst of pilgrimage activity were focused on the saint’s feast day the 3rd of June. Like the patron day celebration elsewhere in Ireland St Kevin’s day at Glendalough was a mix of pious devotion and boisterous merriment hat involved eating and drinking, dancing and something fighting.  The day also attracted tourist who came to observe the patron day celebrations. In 1813 Joseph Peacock painted  the patron day at Glendalough and it shows the secular side of the celebration.

The patron day celebration  was suppressed by Cardinal Cullen in 1862 as part of a movement by high-ranking Catholic clergy to wipe out the celebration. They believed that the secular elements brought the religion into disrepute and that the religious devotions  rounding, walking in bare feet or crawling in bare knees were backward and superstitious.

Accounts of the pilgrimage from the 19th century suggest that the devotional landscape of the pilgrimage was confined to the area between the upper and the lower lake ( main monastic cluster).  Bullaun stones and holy wells played a central part of the 19th century pilgrim landscape at Glendalough. The Deer Stone was one of several devotional stations for pilgrims.

I am still in the process of researching  this landscape  and the Deer Stone but here are some comments on the stone.

Writing in 1873 William Wilde

The Deer Stone was visited by strangers and pilgrims, and always found to contain water.

Fitzgerald writing in 1906 noted

There is  said to be a cure obtained from the water lodged in the hollow in “Deer Stone”; but to be effective, it should be visited fasting before sunrise on a Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the same week and on each occasion a part of the ceremony is to crawl round it seven times  on the bare knees with the necessary prayers.

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Woman in prayer at the Deer Stone (Photo taken the Roundwood & District Historical & Folklore Society Facebook page)